“God entered from Teman and the Holy One from Mount Paran—Selah!
His majesty covers the heavens and his praise fills the earth.”
From here on out, there is a shift of focus from God’s coming judgment on Israel to God’s judgment on the Babylonians for coming to destroy Israel. Teman and Paran are both areas that are part of the territory ruled by the Edomites (the descendents of Esau). The language of God “entering from” this area is not so much language meant to suggest that God is not with his people, but instead meant to depict the God of Glory who knows no national boundaries executing judgment on his enemies even as he moves to redeem his people. It is worth noting that while the Edomites were not the invading force that overthrew Judah and their capitol city, Jerusalem, they did assist the Babylonians by helping to round up the Israelites that sought to escape from the region. For this action, God uses the harshest language of judgment. Thus, God judges without, but also brings strict discipline upon his people within the covenant.
Mid verse (not at the end like some of our translations render it) there is a “Selah,” a liturgical term of which no one really knows the meaning. Some have suggested that it is related to the term ll;s’ (salal), which means “to raise up,” suggesting that it is an instruction to singers to raise their voices at this section of music. Others suggest that it is derived from the verb hl;s’ (salah), which means “to discard” or “to throw away,” suggesting this is where voices were to drop off. Simply speaking, we just do not know, though the context of this passage at least would suggest a crescendo, not a decrescendo.
Either way, Habakkuk moves from the focus on geography to the God who transcends Geography and enters into a wonderful description of God on high in this and the following verses. To begin with, Habakkuk speaks of God’s majesty covering the heavens. The word that Habakkuk uses here is dAh (hod), which speaks of the power, the splendor, or the majesty of God. It is similar in use to the word dAbK’ (kavod), which means “weighty” and is used to speak of God’s glory. The bottom line is that God’s majesty, his glory, his honor, his splendor, his wonder, etc…—all of these attributes—are too big and glorious for the world to contain. Like a weighty blanket, God’s glory is spread across the earth.
And, as a result of God’s majesty spread across the earth, the earth resounds with God’s praise. The word employed here is hL’hiT. (tehillah), which typically speaks of songs of praise. This is worth noting initially because the Hebrew language contains numerous words to describe the praise of God’s people as they enter into his presence. The second reason to point this out is because in the Hebrew culture, singing was a very important part of life and worship and I wonder sometimes whether we have lost some of that in our modern culture—the idea of singing God’s praises both inside and outside of the sanctuary—singing God’s praises even as a form of our outward testimony of God’s grace. And when I am speaking, I don’t so much have in mind the professionals, but the average person like you or me—do the events of God’s grace and splendor all around us in life move us to sing his praises as we go through life? They do for Habakkuk as you will see at the end of this chapter.
The final reason that this language of praise needs to be pointed out is that the earth is described as being filled with God’s praises. Indeed, in the heavenly presentation of worship, all of creation sings its praises to God (Revelation 5:13) and if mankind does not sing, nature will take his place (Luke 19:40). Part of the Dominion Mandate (Genesis 1:28-30) is to do just what Habakkuk is talking about—fill the earth with praise. We are to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations (Matthew 28:19-20) and make disciples so that the earth will be filled with the praises of God. The question we must always be asking ourselves is what are we doing to fulfill that mandate? Are we going to the ends of the world ourselves? Are we sharing the gospel with our neighbors so that our communities will be filled with the praises of God? Are we equipping others to fulfill this mandate? Are our churches doing the same? Beloved, this is our call—to fill the earth with the praises of those who love our Great and Majestic King, Jesus Christ.
We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
That shall turn their hearts to the right;
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light,
A story of peace and light.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noon-day bright;
For Christ’s great kingdom shall come to the earth,
The kingdom of love and light.